I should be writing this week’s column, but instead I’m staring dozily out of the train window at the procession of stuff rolling by. I can spy on the gardens of Victorian terrace houses, and admire the mounds of rubble sitting outside Luton. One of them has a fox standing on top of it, looking auburn and poised. Now there are trees, a grassy field, and an abandoned shed. Oh, look – a little horse.
There’s something oddly soothing about the gentle chug and hum of a quiet train journey. Far from the high speed clamour of motorways, or the Orwellian, smelly hell of a double decker bus, train travel is genteel and serene, as though the entire enterprise is run by vicars. Tannoy announcements gently remind us that tea is served in the top carriage, while businessmen chortle and guffaw about businesslike matters.
Trains are little rattling tubes of politeness, filled with coffee, newspapers and massively overpriced cucumber sandwiches. People say please and thank you when they sidle past you to get off at their stop. It’s as though everything that occurs on a train has been scripted by Enid Blyton.
It’s all a far cry from the depiction of trains in videogames, where their carriages are frequently the battlegrounds for all kinds of implausibly violent scenarios.
Personally, I blame Hudson Soft. The Japanese company may be best known for its Bomberman series of games, but back in the days when it was a mere whippersnapper in the videogames industry, operating out of a Sapporo backroom and selling little programs on tapes in the early 80s, Hudson Soft produced a series of games for the UK’s very own ZX Spectrum.
In fact, Bomberman initially appeared on Sir Clive Sinclair’s ZX in 1983 under the unfortunate monicker, Eric And The Floaters, and displayed much the same gameplay as the first proper Bomberman game that hit the Nintendo Entertainment System two years later.
One of Hudson Soft’s other 8-bit offerings was 1983’s Stop The Express, a tricky and quirky little platform game in which a blonde, spikey-haired fellow ran and hopped along the roof of a speeding train, ducking underneath power lines, knocking down enemies with the help of a giant crimson bird.
Successfully traverse the length of the train and you’re rewarded with the quaint Japlish line, “Congraturation! You Sucsess!” They really don’t make games like that anymore.
Following the lead of Stop The Express, trains have formed the backdrop for claustrophobic little wars ever since. GoldenEye 007 featured a level devoted to gunning down goons in green uniforms, and Uncharted 2 contained a train-based stage that must surely rank among the longest in history.
All these games are exciting and intense in their own individual ways, but none succeed in capturing the true drama of train travel.
What you’d really need is some form of Heavy Rain-style adventure that evokes the sweaty-palmed moment when, as you first board the carriage, you have to rush to a seat before someone else gets there first, otherwise the train will inevitably pull sharply away, leaving you staggering about in the aisle, seatless and wobbling like a drunken lunatic with a laptop bag. A game where you can opt to nip to the buffet car for a packet of crisps (£2) or a Lion bar (£3.50), or maybe go to the loo and use the magical sink that always sprinkles a fine mist of water directly at your groin area.
If a UK train ever became the venue for a shootout, it would be the most polite gun battle in history, like a game of paintball arranged by bell ringers. The loud ricochet of bullets would be punctuated by cries of “I say, Julian, that one hit me right in the shoulder pad,” or, “Cheer up, Heatherington, you’re not dead yet!”
A cracking headshot would be immediately followed by a plummy “Sorry, old chap,” while tannoy announcements would keep commuters up to date with the latest developments: “Congratulations to Tristram54 in carriage F, who’s just notched up three successive kills.”
It would never happen, of course. British commuters would sooner pull out an iPhone or a copy of the Telegraph than an Uzi. And besides, bullets would probably have to be purchased from the buffet car, and would cost £5 each.
The last Ryan Lambie Column can be found here.